Introduction to Treaty 7

Introduction to Treaty 7

By Trevor Solway

Everyday thousands of Calgarians commute to and from work via Deerfoot Trail, Crowchild Trail or Blackfoot Trail.

The names of these roads are reminders of the history of this land. But how much do Calgarians actually know about Treaty 7, the agreement that made Mohkinistis (the Blackfoot name for Calgary) possible?

Treaty 7 was signed over 150 years ago, in 1877, between First Nations of Southern Alberta: Siksika, Piikani, Kainai, Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, and the British/Canadian Government.

The signing of the Treaty saw First Nations transfer majority of their lands to the Canadian government and allowed European settlers to move onto indigenous lands while promising the indigenous nations benefits such as health care, education, economic development and the right to hunt on their traditional hunting grounds and five-dollars for every treaty person (no adjustment for inflation.)

Randy Bottle, former councilor of the Blood Tribe, says benefits evolved over the years.

According to Bottle, in the late 1800s education meant a schoolhouse on the reserve, health care meant a medicine bag, and economic development meant a plough for farming.

Hunting on “traditional lands” was also limited to hunting on reserves.

Dr. Liam Haggarty, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies, says Treaty 7 is controversial, because of competing interpretations between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people as to the meaning of the document.

According to Haggarty, the Indigenous people were “negotiating a way where you and I could live next door to each other and not kill each other, that everyone can use the resources in a sustainable way, and everyone can prosper in the same place.”

Haggarty says the non-Indigenous side had other goals beyond allowing for new settlements. It would go on to actively interfere with life on the reserves through controlling how the natives lived and farmed, and ultimately through efforts to assimilate them into the emerging Canadian society through residential schools among other ways.

“Obviously, by the Canadian government’s ensuing actions, that’s not at all what was going on. It wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t shared,” says Haggarty.

Although it’s contested, Treaty 7 is a foundational agreement that, for better or worse, affects every Calgarian who lives on, and benefits from, the land.

“It isn’t just a matter of historical trivia, but Treaty 7 is fundamental to land use, land management and cross-cultural relationships today,” says Haggarty.